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H-F science wing considered for Net Zero energy plan

Could the proposed science wing for Homewood-Flossmoor High School be a green building?

District 233 school board members serving on the Finance Committee gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to the idea proposed by architect Ed Wright of DLA Architects at the committee’s Aug. 9 meeting.

“If we can be a Net Zero building, I think we have to be. Our kids deserve it, our community deserves it, our planet deserves it – if you want to go that far,” said Steve Anderson, chair of the Finance Committee. “If there’s any way to get this Net Zero done, then we absolutely have to bend over backwards to do it.”

Wright presented the board with sketches of solar panels across the roofs of several buildings on the H-F campus, an outdoor learning/green roof, a native plant education garden and a geothermal field.


Wright said the district would first make a Net Zero program application to the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. Agreeing to work toward a Net Zero building could mean grant money of up to $2 million for the cost of the green initiatives. 

The addition would have to, at a minimum, offset all energy consumption with on-site energy generating from renewable resources, said Gabriela Martin who oversees building energy efficiency projects for the foundation. The application process is long. It opens with a two-page overview of the project. The next step is presenting the foundation with funding and design information and a site visit to H-F, Martin said.

After those steps, the H-F applications would be reviewed by a committee that would decide if the H-F project can submit a proposal to the foundation for funding. If H-F is accepted, it would have  a year after the building’s completion to make certain all Net Zero energy sites are operational and functioning according to plan.

Martin said if H-F High’s building project is approved and completed, it would be the second high school to go to Net Zero after Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. To date, the foundation has underwritten eight projects that are completed and are occupied, and six projects are in the 12-month building performance monitoring phrase.

Wright said DLA’s team “has gone through the feasibility and this addition seems like a good candidate and we think we can achieve it, so the idea would be to move in that direction.” He said a set of construction timelines will allow the district to apply for the Net Zero grant. If H-F’s project is not selected, the design would revert to a more traditional style addition.

Going green could save the district an estimated $82,000 a year in energy costs, Wright said. Solar panels are expected to have a 20-year life, “so you’d be just shy of $2 million in savings” over 20 years.

“I think it’s something our community would be interested in,” said Superintendent Scott Wakeley, and it would set H-F apart as “really being forward-thinking.” He also appreciates that H-F could be a destination school for businesses and educational institutions looking to see how Net Zero functions.

The science wing would be the second building on campus to use energy-efficient applications. When H-F built the field house in 2013, it received a gold level LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The award said H-F’s field house was a showcase example of sustainable design and recognized how District 233 was using the latest materials available that were transforming the building industry.

Gold is the second highest LEED certification. The field house was singled out for its design, and green building and energy efficiency best practices. That space was also designed by DLA Architects.

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